It takes courage to stand up to a bully or challenge hate speech. On K-12 and college campuses across the country, students and educators are coming together as “upstanders” to change their communities for the better. Their stories of everyday heroism are highlighted in a compelling new documentary and accompanying educational campaign called Not In Our Town: Class Actions.
Not In Our Town: Class Actions premieres tonight on PBS. The documentary captures the accounts of two colleges and a public school district that took a bold stand against racism, anti-Semitism, and bullying. Educators inspired by these stories will find a range of resources online to launch similar efforts in their own communities. To coincide with the new film, Not In Our Town is offering mini-grants for teachers and art and video contests for students.
Executive producer Patrice O’Neill says the new film and accompanying social media campaign are part of a grassroots movement against injustice that she and her colleagues at The Working Group have been documenting for more than a decade. They launched a social media site for Not in Our Town in 2010 to grow this movement virally, and also to share resources for educators through a companion project called Not In Our School.
“One of reasons we launched the social media site was that we knew there were incredible stories out there. People needed to see those stories and then build on them to create new ones,” O’Neill says. “That’s exactly what happened.”
For example, consider the story of Lauri Massari. A middle-school counselor from Antelope Valley, Calif., Massari happened to be on a trip when she turned on the TV in her hotel room and heard the school board in Palo Alto, Calif., discussing their district’s annual Not in Our School campaign. Intrigued, Massari went online to learn more and was impressed by the videos and testimonials about what the community had accomplished with its anti-bullying work. “She said, look what they did here. Maybe we can do something in our community, too,” O’Neill relates.
Students at Lancaster High School sign a pledge to end school bullying. Credit: Anthony Lucero
Massari had good reason to be concerned about school climate. Neighboring communities had recently experienced teen suicides as a result of bullying. “She felt strongly that her community needed to do something,” O’Neill says. Borrowing ideas from Not In Our School, Massari got busy. Initial efforts at Del Sur Middle School soon expanded across Westside Union School District and eventually engaged the larger community of Lancaster, Calif. “She went on to create an event with 21 schools and the city involved,” O’Neill says, reaching some 35,000 students.
Massari and her community’s story is one of the three showcased in the new documentary. O’Neill hopes it will inspire more schools to plan their own campaigns.
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